Autism, Photography And Expression: The Work Of Nadav Sarfati
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Autism, Photography And Expression: The Work Of Nadav Sarfati

For one young Israeli man, photography offers a lens for self-expression and communication.

Nadav, shadow self-portrait. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati
Nadav, shadow self-portrait. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

Everyone has their own unique perspective, and 25-year-old Nadav Sarfati is no exception. Born in December 1993, together with his twin brother Itay, he spent most of this life in Ramat Gan, a city close to Tel Aviv. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, and since then he and his parents have been striving to provide him with the consistency he needs to live a full and rich life.

Nadav studied in a special education school for children with special needs until he was 21. Once Nadav outgrew the school that he’d gone to for a large portion of his life, his parents began looking for a new setting for him to continue to thrive in. Until they could determine the next steps to take for him, Nadav started working on his grandfather’s farm in a Moshav (village) in the center of Israel. This “gap year” turned out to be very important. This was when Nadav began to develop his independence. He used to spend a few days a week in the Moshav, traveling back and forth from his parent’s home to his grandfather’s farm, all by himself, using public transportation. His new-found independence led to an amazing improvement in his self-confidence.

Nadav Sarfati

At the farm, Nadav worked primarily in the chicken coop; collecting eggs, feeding the chickens and cleaning the coop. Eventually, as his self-confidence grew, the work he learned on his grandfather’s farm led him to work another job. His new job entailed volunteering on a horse riding farm, where he helped take care of the horses and did various cleaning and maintenance work in the stables. He performed this job for a full year.

Besides this wonderful transformation, Nadav likes to learn and is very curious. He can spend hours reading Wikipedia and absorbing as much data as possible. Consequently, in 2009, when he was 16, his curiosity led him to photography. If you were to ask Nadav, he would tell you that he’s always had an eye for detail, and he enjoys taking pictures of the small things that catch his attention, and, when he is overwhelmed and in awe of them. On family trips, he always takes his own camera with him; it hangs on his neck at all times, always stopping to take pictures during the trips. He especially enjoys taking pictures of the sky and landscapes.

Photography for Nadav is a form of communication. Ask Nadav how he feels and he will usually answer with a shy short answer. Like other young adults on the autistic spectrum, communication with other people doesn’t come easily. But show Nadav one of his pictures and ask him what does he see there, and he will tell you in so many details what he saw there.

Sigal Buhbut, Nadav’s photo-therapist says that when she first met Nadav, communicating with him was very challenging. After a few months of working together she noticed Nadav expresses himself thorough his photos with a finer paintbrush compared to his verbal communication. “Nadav succeeds in his images to create aesthetic complexity that has no verbal substitute, or verbal expression. I would never have been able to see in Nadav all the wealth, the beauty, the different layers, the patterns and the ability to break up time and space in the way he speaks,” she says. “He uses the camera as a tool to express his inner richness and express himself and his fascinating inner world, the very expression has healing ability.”

“The camera gives Nadav an experience of freedom, choice and control. When he holds the camera he has the freedom to make decisions independently, he chooses when and who to shoot and how to take pictures. He decides whether to approach someone or take a picture from a distance and he decides whether the result is good or not.”

Sigal says that ”for Nadav, like other people with autism, the daily reality can sometimes be too fast and confusing, due to the endless flow of information and sensory processing disorders. This can be seen mainly in the difficulty of interpreting situations, social codes, facial expressions, body language, etc. The act of photography enables Nadav to stop the time and look at the situation at his own pace, without external stimulations and without the constant change of reality”.

I asked Nadav to share with me, some of the stories behind the pictures he’s taken over the last few years. This picture was taken on mount Hertzel, where Israel’s prime ministers and presidents are buried. “I was walking there and suddenly I saw a pave stone that reminded me of the map of Israel I saw in school. I found it interesting, so I stopped and took a picture.”

Land of Israel. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

This picture was taken while on a family trip to the Ukraine. After a very emotional day, the family decided to go to an amusement park. This Ferris wheel was so big and stood out, that it caught Nadav’s attention within seconds.

Ferris Wheel. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

This picture was taken on the beach in the North of Israel. Nadav says he liked the different textures in the sand.

Swirling Sands. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

This waterfall picture was taken on a family trip to the north of Israel. Nadav says he felt the small water drops from the waterfall hitting his face and wanted to share that with other people.

Waterfall. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

Besides taking photos, Nadav enjoy playing Tennis and participated in the Special Olympics games in 2015 in LA, where he won two medals in Tennis and participated in other competitions. Nadav would love to share more of his art with the world; You can see more of Nadav’s pictures on his page, just click the following link.

Nadav, shadow self-portrait. Courtesy of Nadav Sarfati

Yuval Arbel is a social-tech entrepreneur from Tel Aviv, CEO and founder of BuyforGood.biz.  After 10 years in the private sector, Yuval decided to start a social-enterprise that will help vocational centers increase their sales in order to empower people with disabilities or from underserved communities.

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